Power of Open Space

Read an article back in August on Open Space Technology in Rejuvenate magazine. Kate Burton interviewed my friend, Mark Matlock, about this technology because Mark is the VP of Event Content at Youth Specialties and had planned to use this new meeting strategy at the YS conventions this fall.

In short, Open Space is a meeting strategy for harnessing the collective wisdom of a group to self-teach and learn rather than depending on the traditional role of a teacher or facilitator. Sounds pretty interesting right? I must admit, the article peaked my interest and I wanted to know more. Then within a couple of weeks I participated in a Live YM Talk where Matlock was the special guest and the topic was Open Space. This was a little more enlightening about the whole idea because we got to ask Mark our own questions.

There are some basic rules of Open Space: (1) whoever comes is the right person, (2) whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, (3) whenever it starts is the right time, and (4) when it's over, it's over. Pretty simple.

The whole strategy is designed to tap the creative energy within your group. There's no pre-planned agenda or even a goal, but the possibilities are endless. You might start with a thought like "what do we need to do to reach students in our community?" and let the conversations and ideas evolve from there. Smaller groups will be formed out of the larger group based on ideas or agenda items that may arise, and people can move from group to group based on their own personal interests.

I caught up with Mark Matlock after the first National Youth Worker Convention to see how the experience went. "Overall I'd say it was a success. Those who came expressed a wide variety of experiences. Some said the time flew by, they didn’t just learn from each other they connected and were encouraged by hearing others. Several told me they were thinking NYWC no longer had anything to offer them, but if we kept doing open space, they would be back." He continued, "The topics and subjects were all over the map. It was fascinating to see what worked and what didn’t. It was fun to see a guy with 3 weeks of youth ministry experience sitting in a circle with a guy like Walt Mueller sharing ideas. When does that happen?"

As far as the overall learning experience Matlock said, "Some of the veterans and scholars in the room said that open space helped reveal how far behind we are in some of our application of learning. When we sit in seminars we assume that our knowledge has been received and then executed. Open Space revealed that learning and implementation is much slower than we might expect."

YS is anticipating its third experience with the technology this weekend at the convention in Atlanta. If you are not yet registered, go [here].

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